Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Florestan Fernandes National School of MST, Brazil.

Hello friends,

It's been a hectic last few months with a lot of national and international travel and many protests. Our system doesn't allow us to peacefully farm our lands. Hence the delay in blogging. Today I present to you a very exciting concept called the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST). I had the good fortune to visit this unique School when I was in Brazil. Here is a brief write up on the same.

Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) has started a national school named after Florestan Fernandes who was leader and intellectual of working class in Brazil and movements across south America. Paulo, one of the Political coordinators of the School explained more about the MST school. “MST school is the national school for its cadres. There are centers at provincial levels in Brazil. MST school in Sao Paulo has the required essential facilities, and there are plans to have schools in other places too. They have schools in Brasilia, Ciarea, Para (Near Amazon). Currently there are 30 formation Schools for MST.”

In 1996, the MST decided to build the school and took three years to establish it. Many well-known personalities have understood the significance of this Movement and support it.
Sebastian Salgado, the world famous photographer who made stunning photographs of MST’s fights and people’s life and gave the rights of his publications to MST as a source of revenue to build the school.
Chico Buaque, a very popular singer of Brazil also gave the rights of his songs to MST.
Jose Saramago, a noted writer also gave his rights of his books to MST to build their school.
The school was constructed with hard work of the brigades who came from all over Brazil. Architects and engineers have volunteered and designed the school and helped in the construction, with the school being inaugurated in 2005. The school has a good library stocked with books on different subjects and nice class rooms, meeting halls, well-maintained hostels and residential buildings, kitchens and dining halls. There is also a computer room with internet connections for students. The school area is Wi-Fi enabled. Every day in the morning students express innovative ideas and host flags of MST and La Via Campesina in the school.

 So what they do in the MST school? They give political training on a variety of subjects. Some of them are:
1)   Political theory. Four national courses lasting 40 days each every year, with two of these courses devoted to train the future leaders of MST
2)   A course for leaders from social movements, conducted in three phases with each phase running 45 days
3)   An intensive course on systematic reading of Karl Marx in six phases, each phase being of 1 week duration
4)   A course similar to reading of Karl Marx but to study Florestan Fernandes who has written 60 books of classical political thoughts. This course is to prepare students to read his works.
5)   Latin American Studies is an international course. La Via Campesina - CLOCK (Latin American Coordination of Social Movements) and La Via Campesina ALBA- Net work of social movements in Latin America send their students for this course. There are three courses offered to these students under Latin American Studies.
i.                Training of Trainers course for political training. This is a 40 days course and by the end of the course students have to present a program for their movement. Around 60 students from the 16 countries are participating in this course.
ii.              Latin American Political Theory is the longest course of the school of 3 months duration.
iii.            Specialisation in Latin American Studies. This course is being conducted in partnership with the federal university of Juiz De Fora. This is a 2 year course conducted in 5 phases; the subjects of the course include philosophy, politics, economy, agrarian questions and organisational theories. One phase of the course is conducted in the national school in Sao paulo and the rest in the university.

Formal courses: MST national school in partnership with many universities conducts formal graduation and post graduation courses. Seven formal courses are coordinated with Federal University of Brasilia, Federal Rio de Janeiro University, University of Sao Paulo (USP) and UNESP, the state university of Sao Paulo and UFSC (Federal University of Santa Catarina). Graduation courses including art, drama and poetry pertaining to rural areas and post graduation courses in agro ecology and education, Masters courses (similar to M.Phil courses in India) in health and education and Marxism etc. are conducted.

Seminars, debates and meetings: People visit the MST school to attend seminars in various subjects. At least eight seminars are conducted every year on different topics including Latin American Studies. Apart from seminars, there are cycles of debates conducted every Saturday. The debates are open to all. Meetings on different subjects and new issues are also organised regularly in the school. Around 4100 people in 2012 and 3500 people in 2013 were benefited from the school by studying and participating in different programs.

The MST school is an idea of construction built during the process of the movement. All the volunteers stay in the school for a specific time of two to four years, do collective work with division of responsibilities. During the time my visit, Paula Djacira and Erivan were the political coordinators of the school and were collaborating with other friends and within the larger MST movement. The MST school does not get any support from the government and does not pay anybody. Teachers volunteer and students study and work in the school. Some food is grown in the campus with the rest supplied from various states of Brazil from MST.

Paulo’s parting shot to me was that he hoped what was happening in the school would set the stage for the future of society. Indian peasants movements have no such school to systematically educate its cadres and leaders. I felt impressed by the equal participation of young women and men in the all the activities of the school from class room to kitchen. Another impressing thing which I felt in the school was that the schools contribution to Latin American studies which strengthens the (America Luccha) American struggle which demonstrated the collective struggle of Latin American people which is something not there in Asia needs to be explored.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Farmers’ suicides in Tamil Nadu.

I have been to Tamil Nadu's delta districts of Tiruvarur and Nagappattnam recently with Mr.Jayaram who is an independent researcher. We have visited the families where farmers committed suicide. Four farmers committed suicide due to agrarian crisis and two farmers died of heart attack mainly due to the worries of crop loss in the two districts[i]. We have published a detailed report and released the same to the media in Chennai press club on 25th Jan,2013. The media was not much interested in such reports. The Hindu, Dinakaran and Dina Malar news papers reported our findings. There was no impartiatempt to meet the agriculture secretary was unsuccessful, however a copy of report was sent to him.
I am wondering why the government is not accepting the fact that few farmers committed suicide due to agrarian crisis. Tamil Nadu has been claiming that there is zero farmers’ suicide due to agrarian crisis. In 2006, the previous Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam(DMK) government l news in the media except The Hindu, before we published our report. We sent our report to the chief secretary of Tamil Nadu and expressed our interest to work with the government of Tamil Nadu to deal with the issues in whatever the ways possible to help the farming community. An atwaived agriculture loans of around 7000 crores borrowed by the farmers from cooperative banks. Interest free crop loans are available for crop loans if repaid in time. Free electricity for pump sets are provided in Tamil Nadu. Uzhavar Pathukapputhittam (farmers’ social security scheme) protects farmers to certain extent.
Impressive road net works, good health care system, public education system, child care centers, well functioning maternity benefit schemes,  better social security schemes, free bus travel facility to students up to 12th standard, scholarship program to students, old age pension schemes, universal public distribution system under which cost free rice up to 35 kg a month etc are implemented by the government of Tamil Nadu. To my knowledge, Tamil Nadu is a better state when it is compared with other states in India. Tamil Nadu is one of the fastest growing industrialized states in the country. There is abundant employment opportunity in the industrial sector in the state which has not only attracted labour force of the countryside of the state, but also various other states like Karnataka,Andhra,Bihar, Oddisha, West Bengal etc. I was under the impression that the welfare state nature of the Tamil Nadu was one of the reasons for the farmers not committing suicide due to agrarian crisis.
But, the picture is changing when travelling in the country side of the delta districts and talking to farmers. In our study, we came to know that none of the farmers who committed suicide was able to access institutional credit. All were indebted from private sources at the rate of interest ranging from 24% to 60%. Landless peasants who leased lands and were share cropping. None of them had any savings. None of them had pump sets or a diesel engine to pump water from the river or canal during the scarcity time.  All were small peasants who took extreme steps and took off their life. I have investigated farmers’ suicide in the Wayanad district in Kerala (in 2011 and 2012), Sira in Thumkur district in Karnataka (In 2011). Wayanad is rich in natural resources, indebtedness is also high. Thumkur is drought prone region and depending on rain fed farming, there also farmers were indebted to private money lenders. Kerala’s debt relief commission did no help to the families of Wayanad farmers who committed suicide. But, the Kerala government’s cabinet discussed the issue, appointed a committee in November, 2011 to inquire. In Karnataka, we were able to get a list of farmers committed suicide from the department of Agriculture. The families in Karnataka are struggling to get compensation as the suicides are not eligible according to the Karnataka government norms. Kerala government paid compensation to the families. But, Tamil Nadu is denying any suicide due to crisis.
The welfare measures and schemes of the state definitely reduced pressure on the families to certain extent in Tamil Nadu. The increased industrialisation and impressive road and rail net works helped people in the country side to get alternative employment. But, small and marginal farmers who continue to do farming and to make a life on farming were not able to cope up with the risk of a single crop failure.  Loan waivers will definitely bail out farmers who have borrowed from the banks. How to protect the farmers from the money lenders? Tenancy and share cropping are nowhere recorded. Tenant farmers were not able to access institutional credit. This is the situation in the delta region. Cauvery dispute and the failure of the federal system to ensure interstate water sharing during the distress period also failed the farmers. The word drought has different meaning in the delta and other rain fed regions. There are different causes in the different parts of the country to the distress in agriculture ranging from increase in cost of cultivation to collapse of the market due to WTO, from digging a tube well to buying a tractor which has killer machine to many farmers.
There are suicides reported in Thirunelveli, Kanyakumari, Tirupur, Pudukkottai and Cudalore districts which needs impartial investigation. Few opposition parties have recognized the issue and have given ex-gratia to some families. If government admits farmers’ suicides due to agrarian crisis, then it is accountable to address the issue. The opposition will make definitely take all efforts to embarrass the government and will say it is failure of the governance. Even though agriculture in the state list under Indian constitution, the central government is mostly responsible for the failure of agriculture. The government of India is doing everything in agriculture. There is an agriculture minister, Indian council of Agriculture research, Genetic engineering approval committee, central patent act, farmers rights act, trade mainly controlled by the central government, minimum support price is fixed by the central government etc. What is that central government is not doing in agriculture.
It is the time to the government of Tamil Nadu to investigate the farmers’ suicides all over the state and address the crisis in priority. It is also time for the state governments to demand the demand the government of India to admit and address the agrarian crisis.

[i] A fact finding report on farmers suicides in the delta regions of Tamil Nadu by S.Kannaiyan and Jayaram Venkatesan. This can be obtained through email.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

SMALL AND MARGINAL FARMERS CAN FEED THE WORLD / KleinbäuerInnen können die Welt ernähren

S. Kannaiyan
Green Revolution is the term for the promotion of a corporate led and fossil fuel based capital intensive agriculture which was introduced in India in the 1960s to attain self-sufficiency in food production. The Green Revolution was introduced in two crops: wheat and rice. Another hidden objective of Green revolution was  the United States’ attempt to control the politics of Asia by controlling the wheat and Rice. These two important grains are the main staple food of most Asian countries. International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was established in Manila, Philippines, by Rockefeller and Ford Foundations to facilitate the American Agenda in the name of Green Revolution and its pretention to help countries to attain self-sufficiency by producing more.  The green revolution facilitated by the government of India was promoted selected few varieties of rice and wheat and propagated the same. The result of the Green Revolution is that hundreds of thousands of different location specific high nutritional Rice and Wheat varieties disappeared and reduced to just 50 cross breed varieties. At the same time, India heavily subsidized Rice and Wheat through its Public Distribution System (PDS)[1]. Hundreds of thousands of different millets which are suitable for rain fed farming also disappeared without any state support.
India has been witnessing starvation and death of people during the last 3-4 decades, while the Food Corporations of India’s (FCI)[2] warehouses were overflowing with grains and 50% of the grains finished rotten by pests and rats. The Supreme Court of India has been intervening to ensure the right to food for children, pregnant mothers, aged, and poor[3].
The solution for hunger, starvation and food crisis is not lying in the corporations’ agricultural technologies and agribusiness models. In fact, the small and marginal peasants can feed themselves and feed the world. Agriculture based on biodiversity, self-reliance, and control over key resources like land, water, seeds and knowledge based on thousands of years of tradition will be the food sovereignty model for the world. Food sovereignty is self-respect coming from self-reliance. The world is mad and not learning any lessons from the greedy corporations and capitalism which is the root cause for the present day crisis. Instead, it is continuing to find solution to poverty and hunger through the ultra modern technologies like genetic engineering, as well as the exploitative and distructive corporate led trade in food and agriculture. People of the world should say a definite No to the corporatization of agriculture, land grabbing and free trade, and say Yes to food sovereignty.                                                                                                                                                                                 

[1] The Public Distribution System (PDS) makes available to consumers rationed quantities of basic products like rice, wheat, sugar, kerosene) at below market prices.

German version of the article.
Translated by Sophie Schaffernicht.

KleinbäuerInnen können die Welt ernähren
S. Kannaiyan
Der Begriff “Grüne Revolution” steht für die Förderung einer - von Konzernen bestimmten und auf fossilen Brennstoffen basierenden - kapitalintensiven Landwirtschaft, welche in Indien in den 1960er Jahren verbreitet wurde, um eine Selbstversorgung mit Nahrungsmitteln zu ermöglichen.
Die Grüne Revolution wurde bei zwei Kulturpflanzen eingeführt: Weizen und Reis. Ein anderes – weniger offensichtliches - Motiv hinter der Grünen Revolution war der Versuch der USA die Politik Asiens zu kontrollieren, indem sie Weizen und Reis kontrollierten. Diese beiden wichtigen Getreidesorten zählen zu den wichtigsten Grundnahrungsmittel der meisten asiatischen Länder. Das „International Rice Research Institute“ (IRRI) wurde in Manila, Philippinen, von der Rockefeller und der Ford Stiftung eingerichtet, um die amerikanische Agenda im Namen der Grünen Revolution zu erleichtern: Es sollte den Ländern geholfen werden ihr Selbstversorgung durch eine erhöhte Produktion zu ermöglichen. Im Rahmen der Grünen Revolution, welche von Indiens Regierung propagiert wurde, wurden nur einige wenige Reis- und Weizensorten ausgewählt und gefördert. Das Ergebnis der Grünen Revolution ist, dass hunderttausende verschiedene standortspezifische Reis- und Getreidesorten mit hohen Nährwerten verschwunden sind und auf nur fünfzig Kreuzzüchtungen reduziert wurden. Zur gleichen Zeit, subventionierte Indien Reis und Weizen durch das „Public Distribution System“ (PDS).[1] Hunderttausende verschiedene Hirsesorten, die sich für die indische Landwirtschaft eignen würden, sind ebenfalls verschwunden, da es keine staatlichen Unterstützungen gab.
In den letzten dreißig bis vierzig Jahren wurde Indien Zeuge von Hunger und Tod von vielen Menschen, während die Lager der Nahrungsmittelkonzerne (Food Corporations of India)[2] mit Getreide überfüllt waren und 50% des Getreides durch Schädlinge und Ratten sogar faul wurde. Der Oberste Gerichtshof Indiens griff ein, um das Recht auf Nahrung für Kinder, Schwangere, alte und arme Menschen umsetzen zu können.[3]
Die Lösung für Hunger, Hungertote und die Lebensmittelkrise liegt nicht in den landwirtschaftlichen Technologien und den Agrobusiness-Modellen der Konzerne, denn KleinbäuerInnen und marginale BäuerInnen können sich selbst und die Welt ernähren. Landwirtschaft, die auf biologischer Vielfalt basiert, Selbständigkeit und Zugang zu wichtigen Ressourcen wie Land, Wasser, Saatgut und Wissen, welches auf über tausend Jahre alten Traditionen basiert, wird das Ernährungssouveränitäts-Modell für die Welt sein. Ernährungssouveränität ist Selbstrespekt, welcher aus Eigenständigkeit entsteht. Die Welt ist verrückt und zieht keine Lehren aus den Fehlern der gierigen Konzerne und des Kapitalismus, der die Ursache für die heutige Krise ist. Stattdessen wird weiterhin nach Lösungen für Armut und Hunger durch hochmoderne Technologien wie der Gentechnik und dem  - durch Konzerne gesteuerten ausbeuterischen und zerstörerischen - Handel mit Nahrungsmitteln gesucht. Die Menschen der Welt sollten ein klares „Nein“ zur Korporatisierung der Landwirtschaft, dem Landraub und dem freien Handel aussprechen und „Ja“ zur Ernährungssouveränität sagen.                                                                                                                                                                                    

[1] Das “Public Distribution System” (PDS) macht KonsumentInnen gewisse Mengen an Grundnahrungsmitteln (Reis, Weizen, Zucker) unter den Marktpreisen verfügbar.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

On Turmeric farming and collapsed Market.

Srilatha Menon spoke to me over phone about Turmeric farming and collapsed market.She has quoted my views,

Sreelatha Menon: Invoking the snake god
Turmeric growers caught between plummeting prices and an indifferent government
Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi January 01, 2012, 0:13 IST

The roots of turmeric spread through the earth like veins of gold, offering the growers the value for their sweat. But the year 2011 has not proven to be that lucky for the 15 lakh turmeric cultivators in the country like Devasikamani, who grows turmeric every year on his seven-acre land in Erode, Tamil Nadu. For, there has been a 40 per cent increase in production, say government officials, but the prices have plunged like never before.
Turmeric has seldom let down farmers. The cultivation is confined to a few districts in five states, accounting for 78 per cent of the global output. The imports from some African and Asian countries don’t pose much of a threat either.
Last year, the crop fetched an unprecedented Rs 18,000 per quintal, more than double the usual price. However, in 2011 it was a mere Rs 3,500 per quintal.
Devasikamani has stored his crop, over 140 quintals at home, waiting for the time the prices would improve. But not all could wait. Even he couldn’t for long. The desperation was showing. Now, farmers are pawning their produce with grasping commission agents for interest rates as high as 30 per cent, says S Kannaiyyan of the South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements. This helps them store and at the same time get credit. But they are also forced to sell at a low price offered by the agents, he says.
Ditto is the case for farmers in Erode, Coimbatore, Salem and Karur in Tamil Nadu. Outsiders don’t even store it in the Erode market. They just leave with the price they get, Kannaiyyan says.
The farmers are a few in numbers but the government has not been able to reach out to them. The Spices Board washes its hands off turmeric and ginger saying the state agriculture departments must intervene.
The Board admits it has a mandate for post-harvest activities, but it has no ‘schemes’, and hence won’t do anything.
"We have provided them turmeric boilers in the past. Now we are asking for new schemes for processing and product development under the next Five Year Plan,’’ says Spices Board Secretary Suresh Kumar.
As for the present crisis of low prices, Kumar says the Board could explore export possibilities in new markets. But that would mean a long wait.
Last month, Devashikamani and fellow farmers from Orissa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh met at Sangli in Maharashtra to form a national turmeric growers association.
They want a say in the price of the commodity. They are meeting again in January to announce a new price based on MS Swaminathan's formula of cost of production and 50 per cent profit. Since there is no procurement or support price, the farmers have decided to take the matter in their hands.
The association says it has got an assurance from Minister of state for commerce and industry Jyotiradiya Scindia that imports would be banned. But Kannaiyyan fears the worst if the government doesn’t intervene. Turmeric growers may also follow the same path as the ginger growers in Wayanad where ten suicides have been reported in 2011, he says. The handful of districts that grow turmeric and the 15 lakh farmers need bank loans on their produce and also storage facilities. When farmer organisations recently met Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, they asked him to study the turmeric growers’ needs for godowns and processing units. Nothing happened so far, says Kannaiyyan.
While departments of spices and agriculture turn their back on ginger, cardamom and turmeric growers, the latter at least can invoke the snake gods… anantham, vasukeem, shesham, padmanabham, kambalam, shankapalam, dhartharashtram, takshakam, kaliyam…and hope that the food for the gods can't ever be enough. Nor their intervention.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

CACP: Government's doll, not farmers hope

S. Kannaiyan
Farmers leaders from across the country met in Delhi recently and discussed various issues related to agriculture. Leaders from Punjab said that the issue of minimum support price (MSP) to agriculture produces was to be discussed as the first subject. One key issues related to Minimum support price is to calculate scientifically the cost of production and a reasonable margin for the producing farmer. I would like to share my thoughts related to the pricing of agricultural produces in India.
Rice, wheat and sugarcane are the three only crops that can get the MSP. Wheat and rice are largely procured by the state and central governments for Public distribution system (PDS). Sugar factories are bound to buy sugarcane from the farmers at the rate announced by the central government and state governments. State governments announce state advisory prices (SAP) whereas the central government announces minimum support price. As for as other crops, MSP announced by the government is there only on the records. Institutions like National Federation of farmer’s cooperatives (NAFED) buy small quantity sometimes from the market at MSP price, but it is really not helping farmers to realize the MSP.
The Commission for Agricultural Cost and Prices (CACP) is a body that decides and recommends to the central government the MSP of some major crops. The functioning of CACP is always to satisfy the treasury of the government and not the farmers. Indeed, the CACP’s functioning is non transparent and autocratic, and farmers unions have no representation, nor are they consulted in fixing the MSP. 
Farmers of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, along with other farmers, are thus demanding scientific prices for their produces. The CACP and the governments say that they announce MSP based on scientific calculations. The calculation of scientific price is not something impossible in this country. One should really go to the field and talk to the farmers and then it would be very easy to calculate. But it is unfortunate that government expects poor farmers to subsidize food and goods for the whole country. But the announcement of MSP always miss matches the real cost of production. For instance, DAP fertilizer price was Rs.525 a year back, and Rs.880 now. The minimum wages under National rural employment guarantee Act in Tamil Nadu was 80 rupees 2 years back and it is Rs.125 now. Invariably, all the input costs have been increased many folds while the market for the farmers is always unfavorable. For example, the price of turmeric per quintal was Rs. 19 000 to Rs.20 000 last year, and Rs. 4 000 now.
The government intervenes if there is a small change in the share market, but doesn’t care about the vast fluctuations which disfavor the farming community. Price of cotton has always been determined in favor of the textile industry. Government intervenes by allowing exports and imports in order to ensure cheap supply of cotton and yarn to the cotton industry. Similarly, pro-active market intervention by the central government on food grains and vegetables aims to provide low price for the consumers, not to ensure reasonable prices for the farmers. Moreover, none of the state agricultural universities and the central research institutions arrived at a reasonable cost of production of milk. Whenever farmer’s demands a little increase for milk price, state governments intervene to protect the interests of the consumers, so milk price is always under the government’s control. In other words, it is subsidized by the farmers. In the case of central government, it sometimes prefers to import milk powder and butter oil by waiving import tariffs. These milk products were already heavily subsidized in the production process and also enjoy export subsidies from their country of origin.
The crop failures are not compensated by appropriate National agriculture insurance for individual farmers. Lack of infrastructure facilities like rural godowns, post-harvest management facilities, some special needs of storage and credit for the produces is the factors compelling the farmers to sell off their produces at throw away prices at the time of harvest. Big corporations and supermarket chain companies buy produces at the time very low market prices and release them in the consumer market at very high price. Such companies have all the facilities of storage, processing, quality control, etc. Interestingly, 60% of the consumers are farmers themselves who are paying high prices on the market, which are not reaching their fellow farmer pockets, but to the companies and middlemen.
Farmers’ fight for prices is not for the announcement of MSP only. India is importing edible oil and pulses and also sometimes wheat, sugar, milk powder etc.  Indian farmers are exposed to the international market and cheap imports of agricultural goods destroy domestic production and livelihood of rural people by distorting the price for the local produces. The Free Trade Agreements and India’s commitment in the World Trade Organization are the main reason for the price disadvantage for the farmers and trade advantage for the companies.
CACP is a doll of the government and not a hope for the farmers.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Celebrating Talaq


I think it was in the year 2004 I visited my dear friend in Chennai who is a lawyer in the High court of Madras. The moment I reached her home in the evening my friend was waiting for my arrival to take me along with her for a party in Chennai. Two of her junior lawyers also were there with my friend and we all went to the party.  I had no clue about the party and also not curious to know about it. We all reached a home of a Muslim family in Chennai where the party was organized.
 It was one of the memorable dinners I ever had in my life time, different varieties of very delicious non vegetarian food was served.  The family members were so nice with the guests and served the food with love. I was bit over eaten due to the taste and extra care of the people. I was wondering what the celebration was about but, still didn’t check with anyone.
 My friend introduced me to her friend’s family and especially to Sabena, daughter of the family. Sabena is an educated and beautiful young lady of around 25 years old. Sabena had two small children .She was the happiest person in the party and presented expensive gifts to my friend and her junior lawyers. I became impatient and asked Sabena what was the function about?  Sabena told me that she got divorce from her cruel husband after a stressful legal fight with help of my lawyer friend and celebrating Talaq
Sabena is not the real name of the person.